Sunday, June 27, 2010

Final Post

This will be the final post here as I have decided to move to wordpress now. You can readaravind there if you want :P
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Buzz is the new Facebook?

Is Buzz the new Faceebook?

I am not asking this in the sense that Google's Buzz is going to get a new market share overnight (unless they add some amazing new features). I am more surprised that they haven't gotten a bad rap for privacy as much as Facebook, yet.

I just uploaded some pictures in picasa and Buzz auto-updates it in my status! Now, I did upload them as a public album and thought I will worry about the privacy later - after all, I haven't uploaded any album in picasa for over a year and I doubt I have anyone checking my public albums on a daily basis. I clearly wasn't expecting a buzz update, especially considering I haven't used buzz in a long time (I wonder if I have used it at all to update my status).

While I was never quite happy about the auto-follow suggestions from Buzz, I didnt really worry about it since I was only "following" and didn't actively post stuff. But now looks like I may have to re-check my buzz settings and "tweak" it to set my desired privacy levels. Hope that works out to be easier than Facebook's.
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Monday, June 07, 2010

Feynman's Teaching Philosophy

Feynman's "teaching philosophy" from his self-notes in the Caltech archives (Brazil, 1952):
"First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will result more or less by common sense."
-- from "Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher", Richard P. Feynman.
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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Kevin Bales on slavery

Kevin Bales explains the business of modern slavery:

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TED Talks

Although I have been a TED watcher for a long time, I have been watching a lot of them of late. I will probably end up linking the ones I enjoy here. That should compensate for the recent inactivity here!
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TED: Dr.Jill Taylor on brain and nirvana

Jill Bolte Taylor on brain and nirvana:

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Friday, April 09, 2010

What are the odds?

More than my belief in chance and coincidences, I just find it interesting to compute the odds of a seemingly insignificant event or an incident happening everyday.

I got a new pair of running shoes as a gift past Sunday. Considering the nice spring weather and also considering how I hadn't gotten any exercise in winter (except may be the walking to and from the campus) I had been looking forward to resuming my running. Also considering my not-so-old shoes that I usually ran with weren't "running shoes", I decided to take my new shoes for a test drive on Tuesday.

I decided to take Big-Psycho's route (5 miles of steep up and down: going up to campus - back to Ludlow - to Mt Storm park - back home). What I wasn't expecting was for my shoes to meet their twin along the way! I had hardly gotten through the first up-slope to MLK, while passing the couple in front of me, I noticed that the shoes on the guy in front of me seemed familiar. By the time I passed them, I was able to confirm that they were indeed same as the ones I was running with! We exchanged a "Nice shoes" comment and I was on my way but I couldn't help thinking about the odds of that happening.

Here are the list of events all of which had to happen for the two pairs of shoes to meet:
  1. I had to pick that shoe! Now this may not seem like a big deal but I had actually picked one from another store that wasn't available in my size and we came to a different store where my original two choices were different. Add to it that I wasn't really planning on getting a shoe in the first place.
  2. Me deciding to run on Tuesday at that time and deciding to take that route just so that my shoes would bump into the other pair was very spur of the moment! My running decision was surprisingly spontaneous and so was my route selection (I wasn't sure about running 5 miles all at once considering the last time I ran at all was way back in the beginning of Fall!).
  3. The above two reasons for the other person - that guy buying the same shoes and being on my path at that same time on Tuesday when a mere minute or two would have made the difference.  
  4. Me noticing it! With my iPod and a whole lot on my mind, trust me, looking at other people's shoes is the last thing I was planning on doing. When I am running, I rarely glance at others' shoes, let alone notice them closely enough to recognize and remember. And on Tuesday I was quite preoccupied and hardly noticed even the things that I usually do.
Well I can add a whole lot more to that list by just expanding on each point, but the bottom line would still be that the chances of that event happening are really slim! I also wonder if it will happen again. Btw, on a side note, the shoes are Nike and extremely comfortable, but are also probably the most expensive pair I have ever owned.

May be I will start noting down more of such coincidences in future.
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The non-Brown me

If you have a guess on what this post is about, it is probably way off :)

Not only have I read all of Dan Brown's cheesy adventures but I have even seen both the equally cheesy movie versions in theater. In fact, I read The DaVinci Code for the second time to gear up for its highly anticipated screen version. May be it was the disappointment from the first film or my indifference after watching the second film, I was never counting down days for The Lost Symbol. However, I did find myself interested in the book whenever a friend mentioned reading it and not surprisingly, I grabbed a copy of it when I saw one at the library.

I have been on a bad slump with reading books thanks to all the overflowing things currently on my plate. However I was actually expecting to get over the slump by reading this one "at-a-stretch". I can only report that although I began reading it with enough enthusiasm, it lasted for a whole of... one page! (Eh... a little short of a page to be a bit more accurate.) Even before I finished the page I knew that if I continued, it would only be for the sake of finishing it.

Knowing how I very rarely don't finish books or movies - no matter how crappy they are - I must have been really surprised, especially since reading the Dan Brown kind is one of my guilty pleasures. However, I think I was more surprised about how fast and easily I decided to skip the book. I also realized that it had very little to do with that specific book and more to do with the genre. Considering the other non-technical books around me that I haven't given up on just yet are all either non-fiction or are very different from the Brown masala types, I think it might just be the right time to say -- Au Revoir Dan Brown.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Go Villains

The new Survivor season is definitely off to a great start. The premiere was a blast and I can only hope it gets better. Since I am very likely to be catching up with most episodes only afterwards, I also have to try hard and avoid spoilers until I watch the episode. (Btw by spoilers, I mean my too-eager-to-spoil-it-for-me buddies here).

Anyways, I am yet to pick my two pre-season picks (which I usually do only *after* the first episode). Considering I know most players well, I am torn between whether to go for who-I-want-to-win versus who-I-think-will-win. For the former, my two picks are quite easy - Russell and Cirie (in that order). Of course, knowing Russell is 99.99% not winning (based on his show at the Samoa's finale) and that Cirie is already a target in her tribe doesnt help the case. Since I still haven't finalized on who-I-think-will-win yet, I think I might just stick with Russell and Cirie. After coming too close to picking a winner in past seasons, I think I ll survive a bad pick this time. Oh, btw something tells me this time it will be a woman winner, much like Micronesia. Lets see.
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The Countdown

I am officially counting down my last days as the GA at the Engineering Library - the spring break week will be my last week of work. Not only will I run out of UGS credits this quarter (i.e. I won't be registered for full-time student credits anymore, which is a requirement for GA positions), but with the budget cuts a certainty for the next academic year it makes most sense for the library to hire a new GA before the college begins to reconsider the position's funding. I cannot imagine how the library would continue to function smoothly without a GA; I really hope the position is retained.

As a result, work is less fun these days since I end up reminding myself of the fast approaching spring break (no matter how hard I try not to!). Of course, the other parallel threads in my life don't help at all. The only consolation is that I expect to be done with my defense soon and also have a "semi-plan" of what I am going to be doing next. Having worked at the library for 2.5 years and having made so many connections here, I am sure it is going to be really difficult in the coming weeks. However, I am also kind of looking forward to the end of this phase. I hope this will be the last of the student worker positions for me.

To better things ahead... cheers!
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Friday, January 22, 2010

Workshop Woes

Taught another workshop today where I went overtime. I know that time management is definitely an area for me to improve upon. However today I strongly re-considered reducing the workshop contents. I am definitely greedy with the contents, trying very hard to squeeze in as much as possible within those limited 60- 90 minutes. I always face a time-crunch whenever the class gets interesting. No matter how hard I try to stick to just the relevant questions (and save the rest for later) I always get too many questions to ignore during an interesting session. Of course I also have to cater to the "takes-longer-to-get-it" attendees especially since I get a real diverse group for most workshops.

Actually this had been on my mind for a while. As a result, this quarter, I decided to re-order some of the contents. Although I still save the "best" for the end, I included a sneak peek of it at the very beginning so that even those who have to leave a little early would have an idea of what they are missing (like a movie where you see the ending at the very beginning; so even if you miss out on the last few minutes you can guess what you missed).

Anyways, after all the re-thinking, I finally decided to retain the "excess" contents - at least for the time being. What convinced me was going over my past feedback (again). If 69% say that the workshop duration was "just right" and 24% feel that it was "too short", then may be I am not doing a bad job by including those extra stuff. Also, considering over 93% rate the effectiveness of the sessions "Good / Excellent", I probably shouldn't try something drastic anyways.

I sometimes wish I had a full course to handle instead of these workshops. That would give me a lot more control and flexibility over the contents - I could always push stuff over for the next class if necessary! I also think it would be a nice change and offer fresh challenges. I wish the college were more open to allowing grad students to teach classes.
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trusting Reviews

Looks like Internet is probably the best/easiest way to get back at any bad customer service you may have received. Of course there have been several instances with my recent favorite being "United breaks guitars". Just about everything (and everyone) from this Friday's new releases, to your college Professors are being rated, with the comments and results out in the public.

(I probably can't deny this point considering I keep track of movies I like and the books I read and "rate" them! Even though I do it more as a "bookkeeping" exercise I still end up with my "rants" on random stuff, which essentially are reviews.)

Getting back to the point I was trying to make, this is indeed a scary proposition for many (and I dont just mean the "big-companies"). Service providers must be extra careful about potential customer fallouts that may result in the next viral video (UA breaks guitars) or a negative mention in the next bestseller (French Roast in Freaknomics)! It is also important from the POV of a consumer - considering you rely on such reviews to make several decisions (and/or get influenced by them) how much "trust" can you actually place on the reviews / ratings? Consider that unhappy customers are more likely to write a negative review than happy customers are to  write a positive one. It may be easy to weed out odd/spurious reviews but add in factors such as "paid reviews" and biased reviewers. "Internet anonymity" has a lot to do with it too. There is a lot to ponder about one's (related) online habits --- both writing reviews as well as reading (and trusting) them.

May be I will ramble more on this sometime later.
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The last time I finished a book "at-one-stretch" would be Potter's final adventures (although the first time had to do with finishing it before I chanced upon any spoilers, I read it again "at-one-stretch" months afterwards as well). In fact I had just mentioned last week to a friend that I have too many books "in progress", in parallel, which is very unlike how I used to be. So it does feel nice to note that I am done with "Freakanomics" in a single day. Of course, it did help that the book was small and interesting, but going along with the theme of the book, I should probably ponder a bit more on the "why" of it.

I may not get down to "Superfreakanomics" just yet, definitely not with the pile of books on my table. But I will most likely follow up in few months.  Some interesting notes I remember from the book.
- Incentives & cheating
- Roe vs Wade: Decrease in crime rate
- Hidden agendas of Real Estate Agents
- Spring 1987, IRS require SSN results in 7 million Dependants disappearing!
- Sumo Wrestlers & Chicago school teachers: Incentives to cheat
- Paul Feldman's Bagels
- Information asymmetry
- Using fear to advantage
- Lying to hide bias
- Klu Klux Klan and Real Estate agents
- Job Pay: # ppl willing to do the job, unpleasantness of job, specialization skills, demand for services
- Risks that scare vs. Risks that kill
- How "smart names" trickle down the "success pyramid"
- Being skeptical about conventional wisdom
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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Never Ending ToDos

As compensation for over-sleeping the other day, have been getting up before 6AM for the past few days. I usually end up sleeping late on weekends to catch up with "lost sleep" but the getting-up-early trend continued today (thankfully, I must add).

Writing is really a time-consuming process. I give myself an hour to finish something and end up needing at least a couple more before I am satisfied. Worked on the CTS '10 paper all morning and finally managed to finish it even though I wasn't completely satisfied. I still have two more days to re-work it but I at least have a "near-final" draft on hand.

I was starving by then and with amazing coincidence Athreya called up with "whats for lunch?". I ended up making my "north-south-fusion". The only interesting side note being my "eggplant sambhar" turned out quite well, exceeding my expectations. Of course, it also means that I am getting more successful at eating Brinjal.

The bad surprise of the day was the realization that I am quite out-of-touch with Matlab. Because of that Athreya had to suffer more delay on his research front. However I think I was a lot more frustrated about the whole thing. Hmm. I also managed to be more productive on the housekeeping front; did my laundry and weekend-cleaning which actually gives me two days and few hours (till I crash tonight) to work on the To Dos list.

Looking forward to the day I wont have to go over the ToDos, the minute I wake up. Unfortunately I dont see it in the near horizon!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Objects Disappearing on a Bad Day

Not a very productive day, so far. I was late to work in the morning due to lamest of reasons - oversleeping. It has been a while since I needed an alarm to get up on time but today turned out to be an exception. After a busy few hours at work, came home and finally decided to do some grocery shopping that I had been avoiding. Turns out, although my cooking skills have actually gone up in the past few months, a bad mood doesn't really help. A so-so lunch later started to semi-work on stuff; couldn't get much done. May be I should have just taken the nap. Throw in some card-games and roommate-bonding, and several of today's "ToDos" still remain on the list. SKA makes a nice cup to tea for everyone (to get back to work) and then it happens. The sugar box's lid goes missing. I still can't figure out where these things disappear. This is the third time (second time this week) that I have searched *everywhere* in the house for something that just doesn't want to be found. Had to give up the search just so I could get back to work. I check my emails and that email still hasn't arrived. Grrr. Looks like tonight is going to be another "work-night", which reminds me, I should probably set the alarm.
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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Unwanted tickets

I keep getting email confirmations to pick up theater tickets I never purchased. And the emails are genuine, not spam; someone must have just used the wrong email address while creating their account online. And based on my email address, I am guessing that that someone and I share the same name.

Now every time he decides to watch a movie at his favorite theater, I am immediately informed about which film he is planning to watch and with how many people, the showtimes, and even the assigned seat numbers. I guess I could go to the theater early and get the tickets using the confirmation email. If only he went to movies that I could actually sit through. May be I could give off the tickets to someone else.

"Vettaikaran" anyone?
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